Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2-23 No State Govt Restructuring?

WED, 2-23-11

SANTA FE - It doesn't appear as though the restructuring of state government is going to be a go. It doesn't save much money and there is no departmental cooperation with the effort.
A changeover in administrations seems like the perfect time for reorganizing. Cabinet secretaries could be hired with the stipulation that they cooperate. But that evidently was not done.
The reorganization bill passed during last year's legislature required the cooperation of every cabinet secretary. But if ever a legislative mandate were completely ignored, this was it.
All departments were asked to meet with legislative staff to provide suggestions about how they could operate more efficiently. Instead, the meetings resulted in existing departments justifying why operating in exactly the same manner was ideal.
Both Susana Martinez and her general election opponent, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, supported restructuring of state government and presented some ideas of their own. Since the election, little has been heard from Martinez on the subject. She has proceeded to appoint secretaries for every department.
That means two things. Lawmakers are going to meet with just as much resistance from the new group of cabinet secretaries. And no cabinet secretary brought in from the other side of the country is likely to go along with a demotion a few months into the job.
Every department has its own problems. The Cultural Affairs Department and Tourism Department were favorite dumping grounds for Gov. Bill Richardson to unload political employees. Maybe he figured those jobs were pretty easy. Most anyone can give tours at a museum or stand behind a desk at a trade show.
But the jobs are much more than that. The science of preserving documents and artifacts, while still displaying them for the public requires tremendous competency. Gov. Martinez wants to combine the two.
But she has already hired secretaries for both departments. The new secretaries appeared at a legislative committee meeting recently at which they acknowledged they work well together but saw no reason to combine the two departments.
The Legislature would like to move the Tourism Department into the Economic Development Department. Judging from their performances over the years, it would seem moving economic development under tourism would be a better idea.
New Mexico is a leader in tourism but not economic development. One reason is that the Economic Development Department puts little emphasis on further developing New Mexico businesses that already are here.
So restructuring does not appear to be a solution to New Mexico's financial needs despite considerable effort that has been put into it. Salary cuts have been a solution Gov. Martinez has been willing to impose. The only salaries she can directly affect are those of her political appointees.
She has been willing to do that both by capping cabinet secretaries at $125,000 and cutting back on the number of political appointees. That will help but she must go further. Her enthusiasm for that seemed to wane when she was asked if she was going to cut her own salary.
Salaries of employees covered by the personal system are harder to get at because of laws passed to make it harder to punish employees out of political favor. Not filling vacant positions has been a favorite solution since our fiscal difficulties commenced.
That works only to a certain extent Some employees are crucial to the operation of state government and must be replaced even if it makes some GOP leaders angry that the law is being "flouted."
Further action may be attempted to eliminate double dippers but some exceptions are necessary there too, usually in small communities where it is difficult to find a city engineer or a calculus teacher.
When we finally get through this financial jam, it appears we may not have had to take some of the extreme measures of other states. We just heard of one state where a museum had to start selling some of its treasures.



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